White House rebuts Wall Street Journal editorial on regulation

Debate centers on what is measured by the federal Regulatory Information Service Center.

The use of certain federal statistics to bemoan a "surge" in regulations under President Obama, as practiced by opinion molders on The Wall Street Journal's editorial page Wednesday, is an approach the White House rejects.

In an editorial headlined "Regulation for Dummies," the Journal recapped the ongoing dispute with Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator Cass Sunstein and others over whether major regulations -- estimated to have more than $100 million in costs to the economy -- are more plentiful under Obama.

As evidence, the newspaper presents a line graph taken from the unified agenda of the Regulatory Information Service Center, created under the Reagan administration in 1981 and now run out of the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy. The graph shows the current number of major new rules, 149, up from some 90 in 2009, at an "historic high."

Many conservatives have said the administration's arguments that it has produced fewer major rules than its predecessor are misleading because they don't count rules proposed by independent agencies, such as many financial regulations being drafted under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and those from the Federal Communications Commission.

The administration focuses too much on final rules, the Journal argued, even though the proposed rules "in the pipeline" are what create so much uncertainty for business. OIRA "also presumes that Mr. Obama is a bystander with no influence over his own appointees who now dominate the likes of the National Labor Relations Board," the editorialists wrote.

Asked to respond, White House spokeswoman Meg Reilly told Government Executive in an email that "the unified agenda is released under every president and is just a list of rules that agencies might consider at some point in the future. Only a fraction of them ever make it through the regulatory review process and become final. It bears no resemblance to the actual number of rules that are promulgated aside from the fact that it's a good reflection of priority areas."

She argued that "the net benefits of regulations issued in the first two years of the Obama administration, including not only monetary savings but also lives saved and illnesses prevented, has been over 10 times the net benefits during the first two years of the Bush administration. Over the Obama administration's first two years, the net benefits of regulations exceeded $35?billion."

Reilly repeated the assertion that the average number of rules reviewed by OIRA and issued by agencies during each of the first two years of Obama's presidency "was actually lower than the number reviewed and issued, on average, during the last administration.

"And in the past decade, the costs of economically significant rules reviewed by OIRA were highest in 2008 under the previous president," she said. "In its last two years," she added, "the administration of George W. Bush imposed far higher regulatory costs than did the Obama administration in its first two years."